The ranting about “fake” news, the banning of journalists from press conferences, the conspiracy accusations. They all seem to be examples of President Trump’s erratic behaviour, like his incontinent and crazy tweeting day and night. We laugh at him.
But he has a point.
The terrible violence experienced by London in the space of two minutes last Wednesday afternoon demonstrates much. A lone psychopath decided to try and kill some people. He was successful, but was shot dead by one of a number armed policemen present. It was all over very quickly. The palace of Westminster was swamped by armed police, the Prime Minister was removed and the whole parliamentary estate was sealed off. Brave passers-by comforted the wounded, staff from St. Thomas’s Hospital ran onto Westminster Bridge to give first aid. An air ambulance landed on Parliament Square, a large number of ambulances and paramedics attended the wounded; the Fire Brigade sent a boat across from Lambeth and rescued one of the wounded who had fallen from the bridge. Inside the Palace, MPs, Lords and staff sat around waiting for the all clear, guarded by armed police.
How was this reported? It was reported as “chaos”, “knife to the heart of British democracy” “busiest part of London sealed off”. The reporting was breathless, the journalists locked in the Palace were loving it, the peddling of suppsoition, rumour, untruth was constant. MPs were moved to Westminster Abbey reported the BBC; this was untrue and, if they had paused and thought about it, a stupid thing to report. They were in Westminster Hall, part of the Palace. If you believed the news services, the whole of SW1 was in a state of panic. The opposite was true; and act of unspeakable violence had triggered a planned response from the police, and the fire and ambulance services had attended swiftly to save those who were hurt. The most striking thing about the television footage was lack of chaos – a large number of highly trained people reacted as we would expect them to. Lots of people ran bravely towards the incident to help. People on the bridge might have fled the sound of gunfire. They did not, but stayed beside the injured. The reporting was misleading, breathless and designed to scare people. The one good journalist who spoke, Quentin Letts, calmly and without embellishment related what he had seen from his office window. At the end, he quietly said “this is what I saw”.
At best this was irresponsible, at worst it was deliberately misleading. Journalists seem happy to report truth as they see it, if that is what their story needs. Reporting is replaced by opinion, which is surely not good journalism. A few years ago, when working for E.On, I was at an Ofgem conference about UK winter fuel prices. I gave a speech which warned that the UK generation fleet was knackered, nothing was being built and we had run out of North Sea gas. Power prices were set to rise sharply – which they have (UK electricity is 65% more expensive than German or French). During the q&a session afterwards, two broadsheet journalists quizzed me on the volatility of the UK spark spread (the difference between gas and power prices, which is the generator’s margin). When they reported our exchange, I apparently had said that gas prices were set to rocket and E.On were going to make a load of money. This was a lie, and Ofgem had recorded everything. The two journalists had a story that they wanted to write, and adjusted the facts to fit that story. One now makes consumer television, the other was hired by a rival loss-making broadsheet as a political reporter. The story which their readers should have been told was that the UK’s lack of energy policy was going to result in a steep long term rise in power prices – and worse, potential power cuts. None, bar the FT, were interested in this. That was the true story.
Jeremy spoke at the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) Environment Seminar, on behalf of Clean Up Britain and called on major brands to change the way the public interacts with waste packaging.
“Litter is the sort of advertising that nobody wants,” Jeremy said. “If the sides of the roads are littered with rubbish baring your logo, then you have got a problem.
“What we need to do most of all is to change the way people behave. Businesses have to make dumping litter socially unacceptable in the same way that drink driving now is. It is increasingly clear that the only way for us to win the war on litter is for all of us to come together in a far more integrated way.
“We need a coordinated, collaborative initiative involving environment boards and companies, trade unions and the private sector. I don’t think the Government will help, they’ve already failed us.”
Jeremy noted that the amount of litter in the UK had increased by around 500% over the past 50 years, and last year alone, local authorities across the UK spent more than £1bn on removing litter from our streets.
He called on the private sector to fund behavioural change campaigns that will not only reduce public littering, but “will get Government to jump on the bandwagon of a successful collaborative initiative”.